Blue Mosque, Istanbul

Research is under way for the third and final of the City Chronicles travelogues - Crossing the Bosporus.
In the company of two friends I travelled from Sofia, Bulgaria to Istanbul, by train. Thoughts of the timeless elegance of the Orient Express fuelled my imagination. When we arrived in Istanbul, the memories of the far from elegant trip faded as we admired the skyline of one of Europe/Asia's most cosmopolitan cities. Minarets and domes still create a mystical, and to a western eye, exotic skyline even though they have to compete with the modern skyscrapers that threaten to dwarf them.

Possibly the most famous of these domes and minarets are those that compose the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, or Blue Mosque as it commonly known. Built between 1609 and 1616, during the rule of Ahmed I, the mosque incorporates traditional Islamic architecture with some Byzantine elements that can be seen in the neighbouring Hagia Sophia. It is a majestic building with six minarets, as opposed to the usual four, with cascading domes.
Author: Dersaadt, Under GNU license

Sitting in the Sultanahamed district, the mosque is still an active place of worship. We arrived outside of prayer times and having donned our head scarves, and otherwie suitably attired, we entered into the mosque through one of the arcades of the forecourt. I had not expected the interior that confronted me. Used to the often elaborate interiors of the Catholic cathedrals the mosque was plain in comparison, no statues or paintings adorning walls or niches.

But plain is not the way to describe the tens of thousands of tiles that line the walls. The lower levels bear tulip designs whilst other flowers, fruits and cypresses are the decoration on the tiles at the gallery level. Whilst the colours have faded the tiles retain their beauty. The upper level is dominated by the colour blue, hence the mosque's more common name.
Author: Benh, Under GNU license

Over 200 stained glass windows light the mosque supplemented by hundreds of lights on the chandeliers that are decorated with ostrich eggs in order to repel spiders. Verses from the Qu'ran, in wonderful calligraphy, can be found on the walls and some of the tiles. The mihrab, the niche that indicates the direction of Mecca, sits surrounded by windows. Marble with gold decoration, it rises to a point above which are more inscriptions in arabic. 

Outside in the courtyard whose dimensions are similar to those of the mosque itself, sat a relatively small fountain. Arcades ran around the courtyard, but perplexing was the chain that hung high in the narrow monumental entrance. The reason for its positioning was to ensure that the sultan, the only person allowed to ride a horse into the conmplex, was made to dip his head. Even the sultan had to make a show of humility upon entering the mosque's confines. 

Shoes replaced on our feet and head scarves returned to our bags, we stepped out into the district to explore cisterns, baths and a carriage ride, all with the mosque as a permanent backdrop. 
Author: T Moravec, under GNU license

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